Why Self-Pubbers Should Care About eBook Formatting

Among the many books I’ve been reading, one of them is a self-pubbed Sci-Fi Thriller that’s actually not at all horrible. The writing mechanics, grammar, and sense are more than clear. This is not one of those self-pubbed books where you can barely follow the meaning let alone find a plot. This book has a strong plot. However, the author would greatly benefit from an editor who would work with him on his weak characterization, use of cliches, repetition and the like. Despite these major weaknesses I’ve been sticking with it because the core idea is solid and every now and then I’ve been surprised.

There’s such potential here, and as I read, I continually regret that the writing isn’t better.  So close to really, really good work. This is a book that, for me,  proves the value of gatekeepers. Good writers learn from rejection. They go back and back and back and make the writing better until they don’t get rejected anymore. With this book, I feel like I’ve been cheated out of an amazing story.

However, for this post, my beef is with formatting. OMG. It’s SO ANNOYING!!!  I suspect this book was an upload to Kindle from a Word document that used the (WRONG) default formatting for a novel.  Because of the formatting issues, it’s even harder to stick with the story flow. Reading a page that has only 3-4 sentences on it worsens the problem with shallow characterizations. (Lord, 3-4 more drafts of this book to go in and deepen the emotions, and this story would rock).

Here’s what I mean:

Kindle App on iPhone:


Formatting fail



It’s even worse in the Kindle App on the iPad:


An even worse formatting fail


Yeah. This formatting problem makes story flow almost impossible to achieve. The white space inserts mental space as well so that, with a story that is already (sadly) shallow in characterization and detail, the shallowness is even more obvious.

If your book looks like this, fix it. Please.




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2 Responses to “Why Self-Pubbers Should Care About eBook Formatting”

  1. Tamara says:

    I intend to self-publish, so I intend to make absolutely certain that the product is readable. The difficulty with Kindle is that you /can’t/ upload Word documents directly; you have to export them as HTML files, and then build the final product with cover etc. from Amazon’s applications. Most people don’t know much about HTML, never mind English majors! But the excuses end there, because there are formatting guides all over the Internet and a free Kindle Previewer to make sure you’re publishing exactly what you want people to see.

    As for gatekeepers, I agree and disagree. I would love to have other people work with me, except they would take my money and I won’t be making a lot of it in the first place. Gatekeepers aren’t necessarily the premier authorities on quality, either. The big ones, by necessity, are primarily concerned with commercial success over new ideas. To think of it another way, the new trend towards self-publishing makes readers the ultimate gatekeepers. The author who writes badly will sell badly. The rejection won’t come in a SASE, but you will never rope in or retain followers with faulty products.

  2. Tamara:
    Hey, thanks for the thoughtful comment!

    {edited to add: This REALLY does need to be part of a longer, more thoughtful post. These are just my personal thoughts, not a rebuttal to Tamara’s comment. She makes a lot of great points.}

    I’m pretty sure you can upload a Word document since I know authors who do exactly that. You can also upload a pdf — or at least you could as of last July when I was talking to an Amazon employee. But that may have changed. I’m a Poli-Sci major with an MA in English, but I hand-code. I’m lucky in that I used to do web development. Who knew that would end up being such an advantage in my writing life?

    The gatekeeper issue is an interesting one and I think that should be a whole other post. The fact is, there are always the one-off, outlier exceptions that people point to to show why we shouldn’t have gatekeepers. But editors know strong writing when they see it, and most of them would like to publish it. Writers who haven’t have the experience of working with a really fine editor are at a disadvantage because they are missing a key experience that would, in my opinion, fundamentally change their perception of the necessity of an editor.

    My own experience has been that as my writing got stronger, my rejections changed. Rejections told me I wasn’t good enough yet. Once my rejections where personal and often quite specific (and complimentary) I knew the problem was no longer my writing.

    The book that I mention in this post is still at the point where, if the author were to submit to agents and/or editors, he would get a number of form rejections and a very few very short but personal rejections because, frankly, the work is fundamentally weak.

    Publishing without an editor is dangerous, in my opinion. I know how much I’m paying the editor I work with for my self-pub stuff, and it’s not cheap. But it’s not only worth it, it’s a requirement.

    Just because a writer CAN self-pub without an editor doesn’t mean he/she should. And that’s an issue many writers face today. A litigant can appear in court without an attorney, but he shouldn’t. Same with writers and editors.